There are mixed reasons to celebrate and remember July 22!
By Alagi Yorro Jallow
There are reasons to celebrate the “July 22 Revolution” and remember President Yahya Jammeh in a simple way. This may be with national prayers in churches and mosques to heal and reconcile a divided and polarized nation, to move on from the whole aspect of nation-building, or to give it a more positive outlook and more positive understanding, whether it can best be described as amoral not immoral, but amoral in the Gambia’s history. The Gambian people are not blind to the darkness and oppression of the Yahya years.
Although controversies and unsolved cases marred Yahya’s 22 years rule, what will also be forever engraved in The Gambia’s history are his contributions in infrastructure development. Infrastructures were built that were unprecedented in the history of our country that provided a venue for Gambians to highlight cultural heritage, propagate arts and culture, generate tourism, improve and contribute to economic growth.
Remembering the “July 22 Revolution” might speed up the process of reckoning. This can start with the retelling of the horrors: the knock on the door before dawn for an arrest without warrant, the rape, regular beating, and water cure, the cigarette burned through flesh, the wires attached to genitals and breasts for mild electric shocks.
The struggles are worth retelling. It is the responsibility of those who lived through those difficult days to keep the memories alive for the future generations, to ensure that the abuses are not repeated. Those who dared challenge the dictatorship often paid the ultimate price. This is worth celebrating, as democracy has endured despite numerous attempts and persistent threats to civil liberties. The greed that gave rise to the word “dictatorship” has been tamed. The systematic violation of human rights is over.
Beyond the physical horrors, there was the insatiable greed for power and wealth, with the dictatorship confiscating opponents’ businesses and handing these over to cronies. As the nation is seeing, the alleged amassed wealth is mind-boggling, with 86 bank accounts, 131 movable and immovable properties, and $50 million in accounts alone, impossible for a salary of 22 years. Basically, the thrust of remembering this day is moving the nation forward from just looking back at what has happened in the past and encouraging everybody to cooperate in nation-building.
Yet, President Adama Barrow’s revolution is unfinished. Corruption remains rampant at all levels of government and democratic institutions are weak, including the police and judicial system, which has failed to make anyone accountable for the abuses of President Jammeh except the “NIA Nine” and the few “Jugglers”. Millions have not been recovered in ill-gotten wealth, and no one has been sent to prison for amassing such wealth.
According to Freedom House the Gambia’s political rights rating improved from 7 to 6 dues to Adama Barrow’s victory in the December 2016 presidential election but the regime shows little respect for personal rights and civil liberties, there is urgent needs for improvements.
The cumulative outcome and costs of President Jammeh’s dictatorship are incalculable. He was not content with simply being a president who had been reelected to four terms of the Gambian presidency. However enormous, his plunder of the nation’s wealth is only one of the costly consequences of his evil rule.
During his 22 years in power, the Gambia fell far behind several neighboring countries in West Africa in the pursuit of development, becoming “the basket case” in the region. Democracy was destroyed, the economy was in ruin, and a cul¬ture of corruption, violence, and cynicism arose.
Hundreds of Gambians were killed, imprisoned, tortured, or displaced from their homes and communities, or they simply disappeared without a trace. Also, with impunity, women were raped and degraded by the military, police, and other criminal elements known as the “Green Boys” and the “Jugglers”.
President Jammeh’s economics of debt-driven growth was disastrous for the Gambia. His regime was not interested in inclusive development, long-term state-building, or the genuine social transformation of the country, despite its “Vision 2020 Blueprint” rhetoric. Instead, President Jammeh was mainly concerned with perpetuating his personal hold on power by favoring family members, friends, and other cronies. Thus, he simply created new elites or “oligarchs” rather than abolish them — supposedly one of his main justifications for dictatorial rule.
Those who dared challenge the regime’s monopoly on power whether politicians, businesspeople, political activists, lawyers, farmers, the urban poor, journalists, or students — young or old, rich or poor — were intimidated, imprisoned, kidnapped, tortured, or summarily executed.
Section of Gambians have branded President Jammeh as merc